“Can you live from busking?”, “Wow, and you can afford your living?”, ” Is it possible to do this and pay your rent?” – these are the questions we often are asked by people after show. Can we really do this? Is it possible to put out your hat on the street and fill it up so you can buy your food, pay your rent and have something stacked up under the mattress? Well, today’s post is exactly about that.
Be your own boss
I started street performing somewhere around 19 years old. That was ages ago, now I’m almost 32 and up to this day I do what I started back then when I still didn’t know what I wanted from life. I won’t write in this paragraph why I busk now, but I tell you, back then I had some serious motivation to create street art.
Firstly, it was something different. You know, when kids are in high school and about to enter the student world, many of them crave something unique. To be one of a kind. Well, this certainly is something not too many people do.
Secondly, you are your own boss. Nobody tells you when, where or how to work. You do your thing, you consider it fun and wham! You don’t think if you can live from busking or not. Not just yet. But you think “Hey, it’s cool to do something different and nobody tells you if you do this right or not”. The quality of your show will be verified later, out there on the street, but nobody will tell you if you do this right or wrong. It’s all you and your act.
Lastly, money. Trivial, I know, but earning some additional cash was a huge lure for me back then. My first Fireshow, out on the street of Poznan, Poland I remember to this day. I “worked” with some other teenagers who, unlike me, did this for some time already and did this purely to get money for cheap booze. Not that I cared about that, what was more important was the sheer joy of doing something I liked, something nobody else did and getting paid for it and, trust me, it wasn’t much. After collecting money, splitting it among performers and musicians I got an equivalent of 12€. But that did feel good! So I decided to stick more with it as a part-time hobby job.
Sending the message
It took me several years to discover other perks of working on the street. Maybe I will sound idealistic, but for a few years now I perform on the street for more than just money. I discovered that making people smile is something that makes my heart full of joy. Moreover, as many artists, being in the centre of attention and seeing all those people applauding is definitely my cup of tea. Applause, cheers, smiles, all this vibe around a show are like a drug, they provide you with such a burst of adrenaline and endorphin that you want to come back and to this again and again.
And finally, sending the message. You bring the Art to people out there. If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain – so many people don’t go to theatres, art exhibitions, circuses or cabarets anymore. Hell, they don’t even go to the cinema for something more challenging than a Marvel Universe newest movie.
I won’t lie that I don’t care about the money or that it’s more important to make people happy than to earn my keep. I’m an idealist but I’m not crazy. :) Being a busker, a street artist, is my job. I do it good and I do expect to get paid. I live from busking and it’s my main income source. It’s good to love your job.
Trust me, there are a lot of artists like me. Not so many, but our numbers are significant enough to bring colour to the streets. Make them burst with life.
So, can you live from busking or not?
In short, yes. You can, but it’s definitely not a life for everyone. Still, after more than a decade of experience I can assure you, it is possible to make enough money to support yourself. However, I’m sorry to disappoint you, I will not write sheer numbers here. We do not share this easily, it is better for people to not know exactly how much we earn working on the street.
It’s not millions, I assure you, but it’s not peanuts, either. Depends on your show, on your lifestyle and your expectations. Some artists are idealists, like me. Some are poor fellows who don’t know how to get contracts in show business. Others are greedy bastards.
However, in life of many people passionate about something comes a moment of decision. A hard choice to make – should one go professional or stay a hobbyist? There is this difficult, paralyzing moment, when the Choice is inevitable. I dropped my studies, job and future prospects of becoming a journalist, teacher or a translator. My choice was to become professional and devote 100% of my time to what I do. Training, development, experiments and all my life revolves around my job. I found a wonderful wife, Niki, who does it with me, we work together as a team. Our art brings joy to people on the street, we make money to support our lives, dreams and interests.
We have a small flat in Germany. We have a motorcycle, a car, a gaming console and a dog. And a child on the way, soon we will be parents. It’s not much, but we don’t need much. Even though sometimes we think of doing something else, earn some additional cash, it goes against our principles. Especially that there is an enormously low social support to what we do.
When I dropped everything to pursue this white rabbit I decided I want to live from busking. After many years of polishing skills, making mistakes and trying different ways I can say – we did it.
Winter time is always tough for street artists. You can’t work, days are short and many of us feel very depressed. I managed to get myself a snowboard, all the gear and two weeks ago I went snowboarding for the first time in twelve years. For the first time I was able to do something purely as a hobby. Moreover, we do have enough savings to support this little extravaganza of mine.
So yes. You can live from busking. You probably won’t make enough to buy a Lamborghini or a villa with a swimming pool but who knows? If you polish your skills hard enough? :)
What about the drawbacks?
Every job has downsides, this one is no exception. There are moments when you really want to throw all this dream into junk with other unfulfilled ones like inventing a teleportation device.
There is no pension for you. Unless you take care of it yourself, being old is a terrifying prospect for many street artists. You have to have enormous will to start saving something up for your Autumn days. Not to mention that it takes a lot of time to develop your art enough to actually have enough money to even think about saving.
Your salary depicts exactly your amount of work. If you choose to work only one day in a month, you will earn definitely less money than someone who chooses to work four days a week. There is no full-time here, you’re not paid the same amount of money every month regardless of work you do. You must work to get effects. No work – no money. Period.
Also, there are unpredictable circumstances. Weather, for example. Sometimes it can suck for days or even weeks and there is nothing you can do about it. The city you chose to work in can have a bad vibe. The working spot is bad, the amount of people on this particular day may vary, there can be anti-nazi demonstration, etcetera. You can hit a bad crowd, someone gets offended, the shop owners get angry… The possibilities what can possibly go wrong are endless.
Therefore, it’s impossible to predict how much money you will make this week. Of course, there are estimates. With good money management and track record you can more or less foretell your income in particular month. There are some axioms like that January in Europe is always worse than August or that working in Switzerland will be more profitable than, say, Ukraine. However, in the end you never know exactly, how much you will make a month. Uncertainty is one of the biggest perks and curses in street performing.
Due to this uncertainty, you have to be ready to move around. Of course, we know some stationary street artists, but the rule of a thumb states when it sucks, you change a city. Most of the season me and Niki travel around. We spend not more than 3 – 4 weeks in one city. Then we give it a rest and go somewhere else. It’s good for the business to let people rest from your show. Once we stayed 5 weeks in the city of Aachen and people started recognizing us on the street. And in street arts department it’s not a good thing – money gradually got worse. So, it’s good to travel around and you have to be willing to do it.
Last, but not least – the Police. Or Municipal Police. Policia Local. Ordnungsamt. Straż Miejska. The names vary but these are usually the lowest law enforcement unit which is responsible for the mundane task of keeping the streets clean of various menaces. They may turn a blind eye on your work or not. Depends on city regulations, their mood, phase of the Moon and gods know what else. I had some huge wars with them and I know some artists who went to the Court of Justice (e.g. Zurich, Switzerland) to fight unfair city rules. But this is a topic for a whole different post. Let’s just say than one of drawbacks is that you will run into conflict with people sooner or later and, unfortunately, more probably it will be the law enforcement unit than drunk hippies trying to wreck your show. It makes me sad that there are authorities out there which lend their ear to shops and money more than to Art and they try to kick out buskers from their neat, clean cities.
So, to sum up – again, it is possible to live from busking. It is possible to lead your life with dignity and in peace. However, it’s not for everyone. This actually makes it even more appealing to some. Like me. Or Niki. And this also makes streets so lively and colourful, but not overcrowded.
If you have any thoughts about the subject, or questions you would like to ask, feel free to do so in the comments section! Ciao!